Demand for seasonal work climbing fast
The number of Samoans participating in labour mobility schemes grew by 35 per cent in 2019 as the Government seeks to develop strategies to develop the country's labour exports, new Government statistics show.
A Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour annual report for the Financial Year of 2018-2019 shows the number of workers participating in labour mobility schemes grew from 2,512 in 2018 to 3,404 in 2019.
Samoa is now signatory to five established labour mobility schemes and has provided the second-highest number of seasonal workers in Australia and New Zealand
Schemes Samoa is part of include the Australia Seasonal Workers Programme (S.W.P.); the Pacific Labour Scheme (which allows Samoan workers to work for periods of more than three years); New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employment (R.S.E.).
Samoa has also joined the Pacific Trade Partnerships (focused on construction work) and Approval in Principle Programmes (designed to provide labour for the New Zealand meat processing industry).
Despite variants in the scope and requirements of each scheme, the Ministry said it is determined to support its strategic objective of increasing labour exports.
“The schemes have enabled many low-skilled Samoan workers to obtain employment opportunities overseas and improve their livelihoods,” the report said.
“Our workers have benefitted from higher incomes earned abroad together with the acquisition of new skills, knowledge and relevant training. It is part of a triple-win effect whereby workers, Samoa and the receiving country all reap the benefits.”
According to M.C.I.L. overall Samoan workers are currently the second-largest contingent in R.S.E. numbers, behind Vanuatu; Samoan workers are the third most represented in the S.W.P. Scheme.
Last week, Samoa declared they are ready to send workers to New Zealand and Australia as soon as they are asked for, M.C.I.L. said.
The Ministry’s Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Lemalu Nele Leilua, said the Prime Minister and Cabinet have said they were eager to see some of the nearly 3000 workers waiting to be deployed get to gainful employment overseas.
Currently around 2000 Samoans make up a “work-ready pool,” of people who have applied to leave and passed screening protocols that would allow them to do so.
Of the workers pool around 1400 are men, and of the remainder 400 are women hoping to do aged-care or caregiving work.
Some have requested to go into carpentry and meat works as well as the more traditional fruit picking and pruning work, the group found.
In addition to that labour pool are around 1100 returned seasonal workers from New Zealand who, having made it home from the last season, are now seeking to reason.
Barely 70 out of around 600 workers based in Australia have been repatriated home since Samoa’s borders closed in March, with the remainder on new, extended contracts allowing them to wait out COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Lemalu said the New Zealand Government has not officially asked for workers yet, but industry representatives have written to M.C.I.L. pleading for help.
According to the annual report, Samoa’s commitment to grow and strengthen its labour mobility programs have been boosted by increased funding and strategic planning programmes.
“With the key focus on four areas; governance, promotion, protection and development, Samoa aims to create sustainable economic growth and ensure potential risks to workers are mitigated,” the report reads.
“Work for this fiscal year has been on getting the house in order through the review and development of the [Ministry’s] Labor Mobility Policy.”
During the period under review, the Government’s Press Secretariat released a statement, which named nine individuals and their villages who were implicated in extra-marital relationships.
“The Seasonal Employment Programme will not and is not collateral damage due to the irresponsible actions by a handful of ungrateful Samoans,” said the Prime Minister at the time
“Time and again, I have personally advised all our R.S.E. workers before leaving to remember the importance of their seasonal employment engagement because it’s their families, children and their villages which are reaping the spin-offs and fruits of their hard labour.”
The M.C.I.L. Minister Lautafi Fio Purcell, stood by the Government’s decision to name seasonal workers in New Zealand who have had their contracts terminated for various reasons.
The individuals, according to an M.C.I.L. statement, were sacked for theft, alcohol consumption, fighting in a bar, stealing beer and dangerous behaviour.
Others have been blacklisted for extramarital affairs, smoking marijuana, bullying, extortion of money and taking unauthorised leave from work.
“They (R.S.E. workers) went there with conditions to provide for their families but instead they are having affairs and neglecting their obligations to their families. That’s not why we sent them,” the Ministry’s statement said.
“They have violated policies put in place for the scheme and it’s good they were expelled.”
The Minister said he has also grown tired of spouses visiting his office complaining about extramarital affairs.
“We have women coming to our office, complaining they are no longer receiving any money from their spouses, they have neglected their responsibility to their wives and children,” he said.
In September it was announced that some 160 workers from Vanuatu were given clearance to travel to Australia to pick mangoes in the Northern Territory.
The workers underwent a fortnight of quarantine before they were allowed to begin work in the Australian state’s mango orchards.
The Northern Territory Farmers Association has said it hopes more Vanuatu workers will be able to follow this first cohort, to help with the harvest season.
Other states are also considering creating similar programs, to allow workers from Pacific countries with no confirmed cases of coronavirus to work on Australian farms.
A spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not respond to a questioning asking if there were plans to extend similar labour schemes to Samoan workers due to the country’s COVID-19 free status.